Kitty Genovese Documentary: The Detached Americans (1964)


For your Friday viewing pleasure, we present The Detached Americans a 1964 TV documentary on the Kitty Genovese case (see previous AHP posts on Genovese here). In 1964 Genovese was murdered and it was widely reported that numerous witnesses to the murder – as many as 38 – failed to intervene. The  case is often cited as the basis for what is known as the bystander effect in social psychology, whereby individuals fail to aid in emergency situations when others are present. This failure to help people in need is often attributed to a diffusion of responsibility, as it is assumed that others present will offer assistance. Happy viewing!

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

2 thoughts on “Kitty Genovese Documentary: The Detached Americans (1964)

  1. Dear Jacy,

    Thanks for posting this, I’ve been trying to find this film for a while! I first saw this documentary when I was in junior high, and then again as a sophomore in high school. I attended Catholic schools in which our teachers were nuns in the Sisters of Notre Dame order, and social justice issues were commonly talked about (this was during the 60s). As a 12- and 14-year old, I was enormously impacted by what I experienced as a pretty subversive message in the film, one which started me on a journey of questioning things that are accepted by ” the mainstream” as the norm for how one should behave. It was a lesson that I value to this day.

    Do you happen to know if the full-length version is available any more?

    Thank you,

  2. When bartender Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her Queens apartment in 1964, 37 neighbors did not stand idly by and watch, not calling the police until after she was dead, as The New York Times initially reported[170] to widespread public outrage that persisted for years. Later reporting established that the police report the Times had initially relied on was inaccurate, that Genovese had been attacked twice in different locations, and while the many witnesses heard the attack they only heard brief portions and did not realize what was occurring, with only six or seven actually reporting seeing anything. Some called police; one who didn’t said “I didn’t want to get involved”, an attitude which later came to be attributed to all the residents who saw or heard part of the attack.

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